Harris Tweed (Quintessentially)

No textile, apart from the kind that grows around a pair of bright Bambi eyes and Maybelline lashes, carries quite the emotional weight as Harris Tweed. Beloved of the Victorian country gent and produced exclusively by just three mills in the Outer Hebrides, this raw-looking wool has a texture akin to something that Rei Kawakubo may have magicked up at her most inventive, while at the same time reflecting the mossy wind-blasted colours of the Hebridean landscape… oranges, blues, emeralds and pinks; as dense as they are bright; masculine and warm. It’s impossible not to love.

A new wave of designers are reclaiming Harris Tweed from the deathly shortbread gift shops north of the border and are taking it on more inspiring creative journeys.  Earlier this year Ann MacCallum of the label Hebridean Dreams created a Harris Tweed wedding dress for the singer Alyth McCormack; a butter-soft, white, lamb’s wool weave that was fashioned into an elegant sleeveless, flowing gown. In terms of subverting expectations, it was akin to Jeff Koons creation of inflatable children’s pool toys out of dense metal, though infinitely more practical. MacCallum has also been working with a denser, grey version of Harris Tweed on more traditional, but no less contemporary, pieces, including dramatic, ankle-length overcoats with off-centre buttoning and sweeping asymmetric collars. They would be more at home making an entrance at the Minetta Tavern in Greenwich Village in January than on the Stornoway to Ullapool ferry.

The potential for Harris Tweed has never fully been explored, although Vivienne Westwood – whose logo is an adaptation of the fabric’s trademark – first dragged the material into the world of directional fashion with her 1987 Harris Tweed collection, remembered best, perhaps, for Stephen Jones’ iconic woolly crown. Its appearance in the international collections has been cyclical but patchy, but it’s having a moment again. Judy R Clarke’s fantastically coloured gowns share some of the Alice in Wonderland-meets-Marie Antoinette-on-acid aesthetic of Dame Westwood at her most extreme.

When avant-garde Glaswegian designer Deryck Walker instructed the models at his January show in Paris to get tactile with his audience it was to dispel the misconception that the Harris Tweed collection may be ‘itchy’. In November of 2009 Walker – Designer of the Year at two consecutive Scottish Style Awards – opened a tiny industrial-chic store in Glasgow’s Argyll Arcade: Micro, inspired by the diminutive directional boutiques of the backstreets of Tokyo, is full of modern, wearable, tailoring-with-a-twist, the bulk of it in Harris Tweed sourced from heritage wool merchants Holland & Sherry.

London’s Dashing Tweeds, who sell through Dover Street Market – the capital’s most directional fashion store – recently started working in a specially commissioned variety of Harris. In the east end of the city, the burgeoning DS Dundee label has fuelled the trend with a range of very modern Harrington and belted jackets that are nothing if not a very smart twist on casual. Similarly, womenswear designer Sara Berman’s tweed Tulip coats have been a sensation at US-import Anthropologie.

Edinburgh-based Howie R. Nicholsby creates made to measure mod kilts in a variety of Harris Tweeds, styled in a contemporary rock star way: Robbie Williams and Vin Diesel are clients, and his kilts are hipster-style (in both senses), with detachable pockets. They smack of work wear as much as wedding garb and are infinitely more Omotesando than Highlander.  Most exciting is the work coming out of the Harris Tweed Artisan’s Co-operative, which launched in February. It’s early days yet, but clothing and accessories designs by Co-op members Diggery Brown, Sunny Bunny and Rarebird have already gone transatlantic, and made it across the Atlantic to Saks 5th Avenue.

Some of the most unusual and inspiring work is developing in the world of interiors. A new mill, Harris Tweed Hebrides (which already supplies the likes of Paul Smith, Margaret Howell, Ally Capellino, Balmain, Lanvin, Prada and Comme des Garçons) has been collaborating with Graven Images, the cutting edge Glasgow-based design agency responsible for the Hotel Missoni interior, on a range of fabrics, lampshades, soft seats and the Bradan, a sculptural, scalloped, charcoal grey throw for a king size bed; it’s a beautiful, textural and boldly three dimensional piece. The range launched to great acclaim in Tokyo last year and was used to furnish Glasgow’s newest and best-dressed hotel, Blythswood Square. Even if you aren’t sporting Harris Tweed this season, your living room soon will be.

Blythswood Square, 11 Blythswood Square, Glasgow G2 4AD (rooms from £133 per night including breakfast) 0141 248 888 http://www.townhousecompany.com/blythswoodsquare

Deryck Walker


Harris Tweed Artisans Co-Operative


Harris Tweed Hebrides


Sara Berman


21st Century Kilts



One Response to “Harris Tweed (Quintessentially)”

  1. Great piece of writing!

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